I was expelled from PHC in 2009 after writing a paper declaring to the world that I was no longer a Christian.
I left happily, and without looking back.
PHC was small and incredibly insular. There were students there who, like “Esau”, had no idea of what went on off campus, behind closed doors, and to those of us who didn’t quite fit in with the administration’s idea of what PHC students should be. There were students who described the horrific experiences of some of my friends with words like “allegedly,” and who could never imagine any members of the school’s administration ever acting less than saintly.
But that insularity didn’t end with the uber-conservative circles of on-campus students. I arrived in the semester following the so-called “schism,” wherein several professors were booted for being more “liberal arts” than they were “Christian,” and the first good friends I made were students who had gone through that, most of whom were bitter at the school for destroying the educational environment they’d fought so hard to preserve. PHC was central to many of my friends, and when we’d gather off-campus to drink illicit wine they’d often rant for hours about the various ways in which the admin had fucked them over. Even in our anger and betrayal, we still focused inwards, on PHC, on ourselves, on our tiny little community in this great big world.
As for me, though, the most important experiences I had happened in the cracks between my time on campus. I spent one Thanksgiving with a friend of mine, a ribbon dancer in New York City, and her four Kuwaiti friends, where I got stoned for the first time and realized what reggae was for. I spent the next sleeping on the streets in DC and volunteering at a homeless shelter for Thanksgiving dinner. I spent less and less time with fellow students and more and more time with random locals in the Purcellville coffee shop, where I’d draw pictures and people would ask me if PHC was a cult.
When I finally took the trip that changed my life, in the summer of 2009, I came back no longer able to believe in the Christian god, but more, no longer able to care much about the internal drama of this little school that had, when I’d arrived at it, been everything to me. I’d spent the summer in Kurdistan, where the Turkish army had recently burned the farms of a few dozen Kurdish families to the ground, and Damascus, which was at the time still firmly under Assad’s rule, and Athens, where the first riots of the oncoming economic crisis were already in full swing.
So I came back, wrote my paper, burned my bridges, and left.
That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
And yet, the digital age being what it is, I still get ricochets from time to time of PHC drama. Talk to students who are where I was before my trip. Talk to alumni still caught up in the scrabbling, grasping drama of the place. And I feel bad, because guys: it doesn’t have to be this way.
So. You. PHC student. Not the ones who don’t see anything wrong with the place, but you, the ones who do. The ones that are wondering right now if you haven’t made a horrible mistake. If you haven’t wasted the last two years of your life. The ones who are maybe already out, but still revolving around the bitterness of PHC’s betrayal of what it promised you.
It gets better. Whatever PHC’s done to you, know this: it is irrelevant. It is a tiny little outpost of a rotting political movement, and it does not matter. Mike Farris and Graham Walker are obssessed with being the biggest fish in their rapidly stagnating little pond, and once you step out of it, they cannot follow you.
Look up. The world is big and wonderful and scary and there is real shit to be done out here. Sell your stuff. Pack a bag. Hit the road. Do some drugs. Have safe, consensual sex with guys, or girls, or both. Make friends who are pagans and anarchists and communists, friends who have never heard of PHC, friends who are baffled by the very idea of young earth creationism and voting for Rick Santorum.
As for me, I’ll be down in New Orleans, building a communist bookstore. If you’re still at PHC, trying and failing to fit in, feeling stifled and trapped by oversized patriarchal egos, just keep this in mind:
We could always use a few more hands, and bus tickets are cheap.